Rabea Ali, president of the Muslim Students Association at Manhattan College, wasted no time challenging U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel’s advocacy in a campus speech for Israel when she asked, “And how do you find it in your humanity to support Israel when it is actively committing human rights violations?”

Huh? What “human rights violations?” Not a hint.

Based on her statements quoted in an April 24 Riverdale Press report, Ali followed a pattern for Palestinian supporters who issue sweeping accusations against Israel; ignore Palestinian offenses; play the Muslim card; and refer to a mythical place they call “Palestine.” Okay, there is a Palestine in Texas and a Palestine in Illinois.

Engel gets mixed grades for his reaction to Ali’s inquiry at the college, located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. He ended the exchange with these notorious words: “You know, you ought to be nicer, too. Put a smile on your face. It wouldn’t hurt.”

His comment suggested that he was not taking her seriously. No matter her attitude, Ali deserved to be taken seriously by virtue of her status as a constituent and/or a citizen.

Ali herself made it difficult for anyone to take her seriously as she contrasted the Palestinian situation with Engel’s concern for refugees at our border with Mexico who suffer from overcrowded conditions. Engel missed an opportunity to press her for facts to back up her accusations.

“I don’t agree with much of what you’ve just said,” Engel responded, adding, “I’ll tell you one thing that we both agree on – I’m for a two-state solution.” Ali, a junior at Manhattan College, swiftly corrected Engel that she never identified her concept to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, could have asked her to provide specifics about Israel’s so-called “human rights violations.” If she offered examples, he could have responded to those concerns of which he is familiar or pledged to look into said examples. If she came up empty, he would have exposed her for being deceptive.

There is room for legitimate criticism of Israel, but many supporters of the Palestinians often express their views in an abrasive, insensitive and distorted manner devoid of facts and context.

The congressman, who represents portions of the Bronx and Westchester County, could have also asked her to respond to the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel; Arabs who stab passersby on the streets of Jerusalem; and Arabs who break into Israelis’ homes in the West Bank and murder them.

He might have questioned if she was aware that Israel offered the Palestinians an independent state during a summit at Camp David in 2000 – when Ali was presumably an infant – and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected the plan. How can the Palestinians complain when their then-leader rebuffed what they have demanded for decades?

Ali could not resist playing the Muslim card, telling Engel, “So what justifies your Islamophobic comments time after time?” When Engel denied this accusation, she added, “Look up your own history sometime.”

Engel’s clashes with Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis, a Muslim, have been widely reported, but I cannot recall Engel making any inappropriate comments about her religion. Most critics of Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib are upset with their often jaw-dropping remarks about Israel and American Jews, not their faith.

Ali begged two more questions with her final comment in the article, quoting her to say, “If he had said he was willing to commit to visiting Palestine or learning more about the Palestinian people and hearing their stories, that’s all I could ask for. And…if he sat down and was willing to have a conversation, that would be ideal.”

Visiting Palestine? The land was once known as “Palestine,” but it was never a sovereign nation. Advocates for the Palestinians have been calling it that for years, a semantics game which could be intended to delegitimize Israel.

Have a conversation? What she subjected Engel to was at best an interrogation. Is that a preview of her conversation?

Perhaps common ground on this conflict can be found, but Ali’s approach will not help the people she claims to support. All it does is antagonize people who become suspicious of what this Palestinian cause is really about.

Republished from San Diego Jewish World